November 20, 1997
Memo from Judy Kunofsky
former Chair, Sierra Club National Population Committee
This memo responds to your request for a history of Sierra Club consideration
of the immigration issue. It is more detailed than the one staff has
produced. It is based on my quick review of several documents, which in turn
told the history up to that point.
The Board of Directors passed a resolution in 1969 calling for population
stabilization in the U.S. "no later than the year 1990." Later Club policy
called for actions at the local, state, and national levels to stabilize U.S.
population "as soon as feasible." The 1990 goal was never feasible, even in
Those resolutions had been passed in a context of considering only
reductions in fertility. Changes in federal immigration law caused levels of
immigration to the U.S. to rise in the 1960 and 1970s.
The Population Committee proposed an explicit policy on U.S. population
growth, dealing both with fertility and migration reductions, in 1977 or early
1978. It was circulated widely in the Club for comment. About half the
entities responding supported the proposed policy while the others were
strongly opposed. When the Board met in May, 1978, it adopted as policy some
of the background language in the materials that had been circulated
(5/6-7/78), but not the proposed explicit goals for U.S. fertility and
In 1980, the Sierra Club testified to the Select Commission on Immigration and
Refugee Policy, stating, 'It is obvious that the numbers of immigrants the
United States accepts affects our population size and growth rate. It is
perhaps less well known the extent to which immigration policy, even more
than the number of children per family, is the determinant of the future
numbers of Americans.'
Starting in 1981, the Club supported and testified in favor of bills in the
House and Senate that would have declared population stabilization to be the
goal of the country, and called for the prparation of an explicit population
policy that leads to population achievement.
The Club was in the potentially awkward position of calling for a national
population policy but unable to explain what that policy should be. This had
not been a problem before because the Club's population program had been
educational, not legislative, and because the first population policy bill was
introduced in roughly 1979. The Club's first population lobbyist, Ken Hughes
(who has since become the Rio Grande Chapter lobbyist), worked on populatio
policy legislation as his top priority. Its main sponsor was noted
environmentalist Dick Ottinger (D-NY).
The Population Committee once again took up the issue at its September 1987
and April 1988 meetings, taking advantage of the then-newly-released set of
Census Bureau population projections that, for the first time, examined the
effect of alternative combinations of both fertility and migration. Prior
to that, they had relied on privately-produced projections.
The Population Committee proposed to interpret Club policy to say that
immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which would permit the
achievement of population stabilization in the U.S. According to the Census
Bureau projections, this level would have been (gross) migration of 610,000 per
The Population Committee brought the issue to the the Conservation
Coordinating Committee in June, 1988. This clarification was approved,
subject to the issue coming back to the Conservation Coordinating Committee
should it become controversial within the Club.
In 1990, internal Club attention to and controversy over the issue was
heating up. The SCRCC presented a request to the Conservation Coordinating
Committee to put the subject of immigration under the 'jurisdiction' of the
International Committee and/or that the Club withdraw from its then-current
position on immigration. I'm not clear what the request exactly was.
The Pop Comm stated, "The Population Committee's priority is getting the U.S.
to resume its international leadership in providing support for population
growth reductions throughout the world. However U.S. population growth is also
of concern. Immigration is a matter of environmental importance because of
its connection with U.S. population growth...."
My notes indicate that the Conservation Coordinating Committee re-affirmed
their position of two years earlier.
In 1992, the Population Committee wrote to the Board of Directors to inform
them of its plans to communicate to Congress, the Administration and
appropriate commissions Club policy on immigration and population. The Board
referred the letter to the Club's Conservation Coordinating Committee, which
discussed the issue (now for the third time) and asked the Population
Committee to develop a more specific policy dealing explicitly with
The Population Committee prepared a draft policy on a much broader range of
subjects than just U.S. population policy, called, "Towards sustainability of
human life on earth - a Sierra Club policy on consumption, U.S. fertility and
migration". A first verison was circulated to population activists 12/29/92 and
a revised package of proposed policies and background materials was
circulated to the usual list of Club entities on 3/15/93.
There ensued several years of discussion, some calm and some heated, among the
Population Committee, various chapters and groups, the Ethnic and Cultural
Diversity Task Force, the Board at several times, and probably others. There
were negotiating sessions of various kinds in various places, some discussing
philosophy and some attempting to negotiate wording. Mike McCloskey and
Carolyn Carr attempted a version.
The Board's resolution of neutrality was passed in January, 1996.